To caramelise, to sauté, to sweat, to roast, to fry, to braai… we use onions in just about all our cooking. It’s the humble beginning of something that could be quite simple or really grand.
Right now the supermarket shelves are packed with an amazing variety, from sweet red onions to pickling baby ones, purple spring onions and even shallots with a slight purple hue. They’re huddled together with the pure white onions small and large, and then the common brown variety, which also seems to have a baby pickling brother.
But what I am most excited to see amongst these spoils is the very posh and special cipollini, which come all packed up in their own tray and are pronounced as sweetly as they taste: “chip – oh – lee – knee”.
I was first introduced to these rich yet mild beauties that look a bit squashed in Barcelona at the Boqueria market, where I was doing a food tour.
The only item that the chef bought at the market was a bag of cipollinis. He explained that this was the king of the crop and should be on every foodista’s shopping list. Later on, he made the ultimate tortilla with plenty of these fragrant melting onions, which we ate with a very raisin sherry called Pedro Ximénez. Although the vidalia onion is home-grown in Spain, the Italian cipollini seems to be the preferred choice there.
While many dishes are made with slow-cooked onions in some form, whether big brown, leeks or shallots, these bulbs do like a splash of wine, and can be eaten raw, or in a pickled form with slices of sharp tangy cheddar on a baguette (enjoyed with a big glass of chardonnay).
Or, like I had the other evening at a new bistro down the road in Bree Street, called Frères Bistro, in a most delicious bowl of brown onion soup, which would have gone down well with a gewürztraminer. And I’ve just received a really good bottle of merlot that’s plummy and jammy, which I’m thinking needs a caramelised onion tart with a touch of creamy blue cheese.
Mmm… Bring on the weekend!
PS. Here’s how to make your own onion marmalade.